Recent flooding threatens the World Heritage property of the Historic Town of Grand-Bassam, Côte d'Ivoire. UNESCO is sending a mission to provide technical assistance to national and local authorities in assessing the damage and collecting all the data necessary for the preparation of a risk management plan that better takes account of the flood issue.
On the weekend of 11 to 13 October, heavy rains fell on the city of Grand-Bassam and the surrounding region, causing the Comoé River to overflow and flooding much of the historic city of Grand-Bassam, which has been on UNESCO's World Heritage List since 2012. The waters of the Ouladine lagoon and the Comoé River have invaded the main arteries of the historic district (residential, administrative and commercial areas) where there are remarkable buildings such as the Ganamet and Resident's houses and the village of N'zima, which has suffered enormous material losses. In response to these floods, UNESCO has planned a first mission to assess the damage and define safeguarding measures in close cooperation with the Ivorian authorities, financed by UNESCO’s Heritage Emergency Fund. The results of the mission will also contribute to the preparation of a risk management plan for Grand-Bassam and the identification of training needs for its implementation.
"Through the UNESCO Office in Abidjan, we are working with the Government of Côte d'Ivoire and the local authorities of Grand-Bassam to carry out the necessary emergency actions to remedy as soon as possible the impacts observed in the affected area," said the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms. Audrey Azoulay.
UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture, Mr Ernesto Ottone R., stated that "UNESCO has extensive experience and expertise in disaster risk management in the cultural sector, particularly for World Heritage properties, and we will continue to provide technical expertise and help mobilize funds to support risk management efforts, including floods".
Some 1,180 residents had to be relocated to three shelters provided by the municipality. A crisis unit has been set up by the authorities to assist the affected populations and to study the various technical options for reopening the estuary, whose opening has silted up as a result of the floods, and its potential impacts on the lagoon ecosystem.
This natural disaster is paralyzing the normal course of people's lives as well as economic and tourist activities. It also demonstrates how floods can impact not only built heritage, but cultural life as a whole, such as the celebration of Abissa, the traditional celebration of the N'Zima community, which must be postponed due to the flooding of the village and its access roads.
In February 2019, the Director General Audrey Azoulay visited Grand-Bassam on the occasion of her official visit to Côte d'Ivoire.
The first capital of Côte d'Ivoire, the city of Grand-Bassam is an urban example of a late 19th and early 20th century colonial architecture. It is planned by districts specialising in commerce, administration, European-style housing and indigenous housing. The site also includes the African fishing village of N'zima and examples of colonial architecture such as functional houses with galleries, verandas and numerous gardens. Grand-Bassam was the port, economic and legal capital of Côte d'Ivoire, testifying to the complex social relations between Europeans and Africans and the independence movement.